Thinking of the Children – Why We Support Prop 64

One of the most common arguments against legalizing and regulating cannabis is that it will harm the children. Opponents cite a number of questionable studies and claim that cannabis use causes brain abnormalities and lowers IQ (a myth debunked by our own federal government), and conclude that by keeping the current laws and bans in place we are protecting our vulnerable young people.

Another argument against legalization and regulation is that cannabis is already practically legal in California, and that “no one gets arrested for pot anymore” (implying that we don’t need legalization, we already have it). While it’s true that decriminalization in 2011 did reduce the number of misdemeanor arrests, it did not eliminate them, and the rate of felony incarcerations showed little change; we are still arresting around 20,000 people every year:

As one might expect, racial disparities have remained more or less the same, with people of color still many times more likely to be arrested than whites in spite of similar rates of use. But there has been one major shift in the demographic:

Youth under 18 now account for the majority of marijuana misdemeanor arrests. Prior to 2011—the year that possession of marijuana for personal use was reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction in California—youth only accounted for a quarter of misdemeanor marijuana arrests. As of 2015, youth account for two-thirds of marijuana misdemeanor arrests in the state.
~drugpolicy.org   

With so much concern for the well-being of young minds, one wonders why no one is scanning the brains of teens after being arrested, prosecuted, and jailed, and making comparisons with their more fortunate counterparts who never got caught. A Yale Law School study on child incarceration states:

The United States is “the world’s leader in the incarceration of children.” Of those incarcerated, thousands of American teenagers are held in solitary confinement each day. According to national prevalence reports, of the approximately 100,000 youth in residential facilities for juvenile offenders at any given time, more than one third reported spending time in solitary confinement, and more than half of this group reported periods of isolation exceeding twenty-four hours. Further, a national survey on suicide in juvenile facilities found that approximately half the youth who committed suicide were on “room-confinement” at the time of death.

Cannabis can’t kill our kids, but going to jail definitely can. Under current laws, juvenile penalties are the same as those for adults. Under Proposition 64, these penalties are replaced with counseling, community service, and education.

We support Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act for many reasons. It legalizes something that no one should be in jail for, which means fewer families torn apart by the legal system. It retroactively reduces penalties for marijuana arrests, which will reunite families so that they can begin healing. It frees up law enforcement resources to focus on real criminal activities in the community (50 years ago, 90% of murder cases were solved; today, it’s only 64.1%). Prop 64 allows the state and localities to enact reasonable taxation, and it’s been written to address many of the issues that were present in the measures passed in Colorado and Washington. There are strict restrictions on advertising and packaging, and no, you won’t be seeing Big Marijuana commercials running during Spongebob (contrary to what opponents would have you believe).

Meanwhile, the FDA has approved Oxycontin for patients as young as 11.

We support Prop 64 because we’d rather see jobs created in a new green economy, instead of jobs created from new prisons in Ventura and Santa Barbara.
schoolvprison

If Prop 64 doesn’t pass, lawmakers and law enforcement throughout Ventura County will sanctimoniously claim they have Done the Right Thing and Protected the Children, when in fact they have chosen instead to embrace the devastating harms of prohibition.

Enough Research

You’ve heard it repeated so many times, by both industry advocates and adversaries: “There’s not enough research. We need more research! We don’t know enough about the medical benefits of cannabis.” The problem with this statement is that, while it contains some truth, it is ultimately false. The truth? There is absolutely a need for more cannabis research. But when this argument is used to maintain the current prohibitions until more research is done, it is dangerously short-sighted. To be clear: there has already been more than enough research to tell us that cannabis use is safer than cannabis prohibition. We also have pre-clinical and mounting anecdotal evidence suggesting a long list of potential benefits that could save (or improve) countless lives.  Controlled clinical trials on humans are happening now around the world, and we can all agree that we need more to better understand this plant’s medicinal capabilities.

historical perspectiveResearch has also shown that it does not cause violent behavior or act as a gateway to harder drugs. A prohibitionist view based on a perceived lack of research overlooks the fact that humans have cultivated cannabis for at least the past 12,000 years, and ignores the many extensive studies done during the past 200 or so. Worse, it implies that we are somehow safer or better off by continuing to prevent patients from having safe access and arresting three quarters of a million people* every year until we reach the unspecified threshold of “enough” research.

Opponents have repeatedly tried to make a connection between cannabis and mental illness, but if there was a direct causal link between cannabis use and psychosis, it follows that the number of diagnoses of psychosis would rise with the increasing prevalence of cannabis use in society. It has not. According to government surveys, some 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 14 million do so regularly. We know that, in California, one in 20 adults (or about 1.4 million people) have used medical cannabis to help treat an illness or condition. Of those Californians, a whopping 92% felt medical cannabis was helpful in treating their disease or illness. We know that deaths from prescription opiates have fallen 25% in states where medical cannabis is legal. Certainly there is still much we do not know, but what we do know tells us, in the words of the DEA’s administrative law judge Francis Young, that it is “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between […] sufferers and the benefits of this substance.”

And we know that, in order to achieve the current legal and regulatory status of cannabis, it has been necessary to ignore a massive amount of research:

1894: The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report
This 3,281-page, seven-volume classic report on the marijuana problem in India by the British concluded: “Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use produces practically no ill effects.” Nothing of significance in the report’s conclusions has been proven wrong in the intervening century.

1916 – 1929: Panama Canal Zone Military Investigations into Marijuana
After an exhaustive study of the smoking of marijuana among American soldiers stationed in the zone, the panel of civilian and military experts recommended that “no steps be taken by the Canal Zone authorities to prevent the sale or use of Marihuana.” The committee also concluded that “there is no evidence that Marihuana as grown and used [in the Canal Zone] is a ‘habit-forming’ drug.”

1944: The LaGuardia Report
This study is viewed by many experts as the best study of any drug viewed in its social, medical, and legal context. The committee covered thousands of years of the history of marijuana and also made a detailed examination of conditions In New York City. Among its conclusions: “The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.” And: “The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for those narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.”

The study also noted that “The majority of marihuana smokers are Negroes and Latin-Americans” and that “The consensus among marihuana smokers is that the use of the drug creates a definite feeling of adequacy.”

1968: The Wootton Report
This study report on marijuana and hashish was prepared by a group that included some of the leading drug abuse experts of the United Kingdom. These impartial experts worked as a subcommittee under the lead of Baroness Wootton of Abinger. The basic tone and substantive conclusions were similar to all of the other great commission reports. The Wootton group specifically endorsed the conclusions of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission and the La Guardia Committee. Typical findings included the following:

  • There is no evidence that in Western society serious physical dangers are directly associated with the smoking of cannabis.
  • It can clearly be argued on the world picture that cannabis use does not lead to heroin addiction.
  • The evidence of a link with violent crime is far stronger with alcohol than with the smoking of cannabis.
  • There is no evidence that this activity … is producing in otherwise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis, requiring medical treatment.

1972: The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, entitled “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding”
This commission was directed by Raymond P. Shafer, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, and had four sitting, elected politicians among its eleven members. The commission also had leading addiction scholars among its members and staff and was appointed by President Nixon in the midst of the drug-war hysteria at that time.  The first recommendations of the commission were:

  • Possession of marihuana for personal use would no longer be an offense.
  • Casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration not involving profit, would no longer be an offense.

The recommendations in this reports were endorsed by (among others) the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, The American Association for Public Health, the National Education Association, and the National Council of Churches.

1980: The Facts About Drug Abuse, from the Drug Abuse Council
A 1972 report to the Ford Foundation, “Dealing With Drug Abuse,” concluded that current drug policies were unlikely to eliminate or greatly affect drug abuse. This conclusion led to the creation and joint funding by four major foundations of a broadly based, independent national Drug Abuse Council. The Council concluded, in part:

  • Psychoactive substances have been available throughout recorded history and will remain so. To try to eliminate them completely is unrealistic.
  • The use of psychoactive drugs is pervasive, but misuse is much less frequent, and the failure to make the distinction between use and misuse creates the impression that all use is misuse and leads to addiction.
  • There is a clear relationship between drug misuse and pervasive societal ills such as poverty, racial discrimination, and unemployment, and we can expect drug misuse so long as these adverse social conditions exist.

1988: DEA Docket No. 86-22, MARIJUANA RESCHEDULING PETITION
Before issuing his ruling, The DEA’s own Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young heard two years of testimony from both sides of the issue and accumulated fifteen volumes of research. This was undoubtedly the most comprehensive study of medical marijuana done to date. Judge Young concluded that marijuana was one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man, that it had never caused a single human death, and that the Federal Government’s policy toward medical marijuana is “unconscionable.”

How much is enough?

It’s a little overwhelming, looking at all the evidence that’s been presented over the years, and then considering how different the world might be if we had followed the research that’s already been done. If the 1972 recommendation that “possession of marijuana should no longer be an offense” had been followed, there would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000,000 fewer arrests made between then and now. Individuals whose lives will never be the same. Families, whole communities left devastated. Meanwhile, the FDA recently approved OxyContin for children as young as 11, while we are in the midst of a prescription painkiller overdose epidemic.

Wouldn’t the money spent to enforce this failed prohibition on cannabis be better spent doing more research? How many lives could we save? How many jobs could we create?

 

*US average annual marijuana arrests, 1996 – 2012: 763,348

Beyond Remembrance

Honor the FallenIn a moving article I’ve paraphrased here, Rev. Dr. Coleman Baker expresses so eloquently what has been on our minds here at Sespe:

…along with those killed on the battlefields we’ve sent them to, there are at least two other facets of Memorial Day that we should face.

First, we should remember those whose war experience led them to take their own lives after returning home. According to the latest government data, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day. That’s almost one per hour.

Second, we should also remember those who may struggle with memories of fallen friends, wondering why they survived while others didn’t.

Let us give thanks for the many lives lost on the battlefield. But let us also acknowledge those who returned home, alive and well, but feeling empty, numb, even dead, on the inside. And let us call attention to these invisible wounds that affect so many, raising awareness of the need … to take action to help their recovery.

The 22 suicides per day figure is without a doubt significantly low. It includes data from only 21 states, from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40% of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available. There is also an under-reporting of suicides and a very significant under-reporting of veteran status on death records.

So what can we do this Memorial Day to help the veterans who are still falling, day by day, hour by hour?

The good news is, a Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved Veterans Medical Marijuana Amendment, and it’s attached to a piece of legislation that is guaranteed to pass. As positive as this is, it only helps the vets who live in medical states, and those who can afford to move to one.

But on this historic day, and the next few days while this story does the news cycle, as we thank our lawmakers for attaching some urgency to this issue, it would be a perfect moment to remind them how important HR 1538 is.

Last March, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015 (H.R.1538 – CARERS Act of 2015) was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) The bill would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and “extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana”.  It would also allow veterans in all states to have safe access.  It has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security so they can evaluate the threats posed by compassion, research, and respecting rights. Meanwhile, people die.

As we honor the fallen, we should do everything in our power to help those who are still with us to NOT FALL.

Almost one every hour.

For more on cannabis and PTSD, Dr. Sanjay Gupta did an excellent job in WEED 3:

 

Seven Reasons Why Delivery is the Future of Cannabis Retail

Denver, United States. 1st January 2014 -- The line started in pre-dawn and grew far down the street before the Lodo Wellness Center, a pot dispensary in Denver Colorado, opened their doors. There have been some interesting developments regarding applications for cannabis delivery services lately. Startups like Nestdrop have already come under fire, being slapped with a lawsuit from the city of Los Angeles before it could take off in that city. Eaze and Meadow are other offerings, both claiming to be the Uber of weed, promising quick and easy delivery from participating dispensaries. The problem is these apps are essentially glorified versions of the Yellow Pages and provide little more than marketing value (at a steep commission) to the dispensary. Unless you do business in a city dense with dispensaries to choose from, there is little incentive for you, as a dispensary, to sign up with such a service. They make big promises of convenience to consumers, and sit back collecting fees while the dispensary does all the work and has the onerous task of making that super-fast delivery, and tracking that inventory in another system. Eaze may work with a contracted team of drivers to make deliveries, but you need your own staff if you want to make deliveries to patients outside the app. And you must maintain at least two inventory lists: one in your system, one that’s referenced by the app. That becomes extremely inconvenient for the dispensary owner, and leads to problems for the consumer when they order something and find out later that it’s no longer in stock.

A recent article in Cannabist suggests the delivery space is not necessarily fit for investors right now. I agree that apps like Meadow and Eaze are not where the market is headed (yet), and don’t carry a fully-baked value proposition. Yet having operated a successful delivery service for several years, I’d like to point out some key consumers whose needs will never be met by storefront dispensaries:

  1. Working-girl Wynona: People will always value the ease and convenience of having something delivered (hello amazon.com). Dispensaries often cater to a younger crowd; older consumers are seeking privacy, discretion and good service over a party atmosphere.
  2. Paranoid Peter: Not everyone wants to be seen in a dispensary making a purchase for something he still considers taboo.
  3. Housebound Hannah has mobility issues and can’t get to a storefront.
  4. Anti-social Alex doesn’t want to deal with people; he likes to order online and prefers text updates from the driver for a streamlined experience.
  5. Anxious Annie has a hard time making decisions in the presence of pierced and tattooed strangers. She feels overwhelmed with too many choices and wants to review an extensive menu from the comfort of her living room, free from a smoke-filled, bass-thumping vibe at the local 420 guys’ hangout.
  6. Loyal Linda: Has been using the same delivery service for years; even when a new dispensary opens nearby, she likes the selection and personal attention she gets when she calls her to place her weekly order.
  7. NIMBY Nancy: Like a significant majority of US voters, she thinks medical cannabis should be legal, but is less than enthusiastic about having a dispensary move in across the street.

Delivery services are an ideal solution for giving patients in legal states safe access to cannabis in cities and counties that want to ban dispensaries. There’s no reason they can’t be licensed and regulated like storefronts – with an unpublished address. Security concerns inherent with storefronts can be largely mitigated; and there’s no evidence that delivery services are just rogue/non-tax-paying smooth operators; you’re confusing us with white-collar criminals on Wall Street. Do you inherently feel your pizza delivery guy is more “shady” than the waiter at the pizza place? A delivery service can endeavor to be both discreet and fully compliant with the law.

The real need in the cannabis delivery app space is for a robust, user-friendly and, yes, specialized application that give start-ups a tools to manage their business, from inventory to patients to driver routing, with simplicity and transparency. Cannabis is an extremely complex plant; it makes sense that an application designed to connect consumers with this medicine in the most appropriate way would have some nuances that can’t be purchased off-the-shelf.

It also seems to be the case that regulations are slow to follow the will of the people. As state and local laws across the country are shaped and re-shaped, it’s quite possible that a well-regulated licensing scheme for delivery services would alleviate many concerns of storefront opponents and be an ideal compromise in the fight for safe access.

The Price of (Delivered) Weed

In the interest of transparency, and to help illustrate why we’ve implemented a per-delivery fee, here’s a breakdown of what it costs to provide safe access to medical cannabis in this area. Because we have avoided the “backpack delivery” model where drivers carry their limited menu with them (on the advice of our attorney), we require a larger communications budget than those types of services, and we have a much higher staffing need and the expense of cars, gas, and maintenance over brick-and-mortar shops.  Additionally, we require testing of all our medicine, something that is not a practice with many California collectives. We do this for the same reason we don’t carry any BHO products, because in the absence of adequate safety and quality regulations, we are holding ourselves as providers to the standard we would want to see as patients and consumers.  We also promote an atmosphere where staff are encouraged to learn, research, and share their knowledge internally, so that we are able to educate our patients (and hopefully, the community as a whole).

It won’t always be this expensive to get one order out the door. We expect to be significantly more cost-efficient when we have proper software in place, and the simple act of allowing collectives to use banks just like regular people would lighten our administrative burden considerably. The effort and energy it takes to work around all the barriers that have been placed between patients and their medicine is costly, but in the end we feel it’s been worth it.  After all, safe access to this medicine is a right that’s already been established by the people of California.

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Medical Marijuana’s Momentum

Momentum seems to be on the side of medical marijuana recently.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department announced that the federal government would stop focusing on prosecuting marijuana in states that have legalized its use August 29. The memo impacts the Nineteen states and the District of Columbia that have medical marijuana laws, as well as Colorado and Washington which legalized recreational use. The Justice Department will be working with the states to create regulations that reduce violations in eight areas such as preventing kids from obtaining marijuana and stopping drugged driving.

The new direction from the Justice Department will also allow banks to work with marijuana businesses that operate within the regulations determined by the state and federal governments.

The announcement came on the heels of an apology from former Surgeon General candidate Dr. Sanjay Gupta. (http://tinyurl.com/keffp2d) At the beginning of August Gupta admitted that he was wrong to deny the medical benefits of marijuana. Gupta said he no longer believes marijuana has a high risk of abuse or should be regulated as a schedule one drug. He even released a documentary on the issue. (Watch it here http://tinyurl.com/luftwer)

More recently Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain appears to be leaning towards legalization. McCain told a crowd at a town hall event in Phoenix, “Maybe we should legalize. We’re certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people.” This appears to be a new direction for the senator, but echoes his daughter Meghan McCain, who supports legalization.

All of this is hopefully leading towards the legalization of medical marijuana. With that in mind Senator Patrick Leahy held a Senate hearing September 10 to focus on federal marijuana policy and how it affects state laws. Leahy is a former prosecutor and current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. King County, Wash., Sheriff John Urquhart said his department welcomed the new direction from the Justice Department during the hearing. Urquhart and Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper both told the legislators that they look forward to working with the federal government and support the governments eight guidelines for regulation.

Locally there will be a medical marijuana rally at the Ventura City Hall September 16. The city is considering legislation to outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries. Please come support medical marijuana in your city and county.